Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 87–102 | Cite as

Disembedding grain: Golden Rice, the Green Revolution, and heirloom seeds in the Philippines

  • Glenn Davis StoneEmail author
  • Dominic Glover


“Golden Rice” has played a key role in arguments over genetically modified (GM) crops for many years. It is routinely depicted as a generic GM vitamin tablet in a generic plant bound for the global South. But the release of Golden Rice is on the horizon only in the Philippines, a country with a storied history and complicated present, and contested future for rice production and consumption. The present paper corrects this blinkered view of Golden Rice through an analysis of three distinctive “rice worlds” of the Philippines: Green Revolution rice developed at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the 1960s, Golden Rice currently being bred at IRRI, and a scheme to promote and export traditional “heirloom” landrace rice. More than mere seed types, these rices are at the centers of separate “rice worlds” with distinctive concepts of what the crop should be and how it should be produced. In contrast to the common productivist framework for comparing types of rice, this paper compares the rice worlds on the basis of geographical embeddedness, or the extent to which local agroecological context is valorized or nullified in the crop’s construction. The Green Revolution spread generic, disembedded high-input seeds to replace locally adapted landraces as well as peasant attitudes and practices associated with them. The disembeddedness of Golden Rice that boosts its value as a public relations vehicle has also been the main impediment in it reaching farmers’ fields, as it has proved difficult to breed into varieties that grow well specifically in the Philippines. Finally, and somewhat ironically, IRRI has recently undertaken research and promotion of heirloom seeds in collaboration with the export scheme.


Rice Seeds Genetically modified crops Golden Rice Green Revolution Landraces Breeding Heirloom crops 



Major funding for this research came from the John Templeton Foundation initiative, “Can GM Crops Help to Feed the World?” Additional funds came from the ESRC STEPS Centre at Sussex University, UK. For assistance and insights we are grateful to Bruce Tolentino and Nollie Vera Cruz of IRRI; Marlon Martin and Jacy Moore of SITMo; Stephen Acabado of UCLA; Jovy Camso of Mountain Province Agriculture Department; Vicky Garcia, Mary Hensley, and Jimmy Lingayo of the CHRP; Tony La Viña of Ateneo School of Government; Tony Alfonso formerly of PhilRice; Amber Heckelman of University of British Columbia; Priscilla Stone of S.I.T.; and two anonymous referees.


  1. 2015. Accessed 22 March 2016.
  2. Beachy, R.N. 2003. Editorial: IP policies and serving the public. Science 299: 473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Borlaug, N.E. 1972. Breeding wheat for high yield, wide adaptation, and disease resistance. In Rice breeding, ed. IRRI, 581–589. Los Baños: International Rice Research Institute.Google Scholar
  4. Bowen, S. 2011. The importance of place: Re-territorialising embeddedness. Sociologia Ruralis 51: 325–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bradsher, K., and A. Martin. 2008. World’s poor pay price as crop research is cut. New York Times, 18 May.Google Scholar
  6. Bray, F. 1994. Agriculture for developing nations. Scientific American 271: 30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brooks, S. 2008. Global science, public goods? Tracing international science policy processes in rice biofortification. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.Google Scholar
  8. Brooks, S. 2010. Rice biofortification: lessons for global science and development. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  9. Brooks, S. 2011. Living with materiality or confronting asian diversity? The case of iron-biofortified rice research in the Philippines. East Asian Science, Technology, and Society 5: 173–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brooks, S. 2013. Biofortification: Lessons from the Golden Rice project. Food Chain 3: 77–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Charles, D. 2001. Lords of the harvest: Biotech, big money, and the future of food. Cambridge: Perseus.Google Scholar
  12. Cheung, F. 2014. Yield: The search for the rice of the future. Nature 514: S60–S61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cronon, W. 1991. Nature’s metropolis: Chicago and the great west. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.Google Scholar
  14. Cullather, N. 2003. Parable of seeds: The Green Revolution in the modernizing imagination. In The transformation of Southeast Asia: International perspectives on decolonization, ed. M. Frey, R.W. Pruessen, and T.T. Yong, 257–267. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Cullather, N. 2004. Miracles of modernization: The Green Revolution and the apotheosis of technology. Diplomatic History 28: 227–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cullather, N. 2010. The hungry world: America’s cold war battle against poverty in Asia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Datta, S.K. 2004. Rice biotechnology: A need for developing countries. AgBioForum 7(1–2): 31–35.Google Scholar
  18. Dawe, D., R. Robertson, and L. Unnevehr. 2002. Golden rice: What role could it play in alleviation of vitamin A deficiency? Food Policy 27: 541–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dawe, D., and L. Unnevehr. 2007. Crop case study: GMO Golden Rice in Asia with enhanced Vitamin A benefits for consumers. AgBioForum 10: 154–160.Google Scholar
  20. Domoguen, R.L. 2011. Cordillera losing its heirloom rice varieties. Sun Star. Baguio, 28 Feb.Google Scholar
  21. Donald, C.M. 1968. The breeding of crop ideotypes. Euphytica 17: 385–403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dowd-Uribe, B. 2014. Engineering yields and inequality? How institutions and agro-ecology shape Bt cotton outcomes in Burkina Faso. Geoforum 53: 161–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dowd-Uribe, B., D. Glover, and M. Schnurr. 2014. Seeds and places: The geographies of transgenic crops in the global south. Geoforum 53: 145–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Druguet, A. 2010. From the invention of landscapes to the construction of territories: The terraces of the Ifugaos (Philippines) and the Cevenols (France). PhD thesis, Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History.Google Scholar
  25. Dubock, A. 2014. The present status of Golden Rice. Journal of Huazhong Agricultural University 33: 69–84.Google Scholar
  26. DuPuis, E.M., and D. Goodman. 2005. Should we go “home” to eat? Toward a reflexive politics of localism. Journal of Rural Studies 21: 359–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Eighth Wonder. 2015. Accessed 22 March 2016.
  28. Eisenstein, M. 2014. Biotechnology: Against the grain. Nature 514: S55–S57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Enserink, M. 2008. Tough lessons from golden rice. Science 320: 468–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Evans, N., C. Morris, and M. Winter. 2002. Conceptualizing agriculture: A critique of post-productivism as the new orthodoxy. Progress in Human Geography 26: 313–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Evenson, R.E. 2004. Food and population: D. Gale Johnson and the Green Revolution. Economic Development and Cultural Change 52: 543–569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Evenson, R.E., and D. Gollin. 2003. Assessing the impact of the Green Revolution, 1960 to 2000. Science 300: 758–762.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Evenson, R.E., and D. Gollin. 1997. Genetic resources, international organizations, and improvement in rice varieties. Economic Development and Cultural Change 45: 471–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Food and Nutrition Research Institute. nd. Seventh national nutrition survey 2008–2009. Department of Science and Technology (Philippines).Google Scholar
  35. Glover, D. 2010. The corporate shaping of GM crops as a technology for the poor. Journal of Peasant Studies 37: 67–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Golden Rice Project. nd. Testing the performance of Golden Rice. Accessed 22 March 2016.
  37. Granovetter, M. 1985. Economic action and social structure: the problem of embeddedness. American Journal of Sociology 91: 481–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Guthman, J. 2004. Agrarian dreams: The paradox of organic farming in California. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  39. Guthman, J., et al. 2007. Commentary on teaching food: Why I am fed up with Michael Pollan et al. Agriculture and Human Values 24: 261–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Haas, J.D., J.L. Beard, L.E. Murray-Kolb, A.M. del Mundo, A. Felix, and G.B. Gregorio. 2005. Iron-biofortified rice improves the iron stores of nonanemic Filipino women. The Journal of Nutrition 135: 2823–2830.Google Scholar
  41. Hansen, M. 2013. Golden Rice myths. GMWatch website. Accessed 22 March 2016.
  42. Harris, E. 2009. Neoliberal subjectivities or a politics of the possible? Reading for difference in alternative food networks. Area 41: 55–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Harris, E. 2010. Eat Local? Constructions of place in alternative food politics. Geography Compass 4: 355–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Harwood, J. 2015. Global visions vs. local complexity: Experts wrestle with the problem of development. In Rice: Global networks and new histories, ed. F. Bray, P.A. Coclanis, E.L. Fields-Black, and D. Schäfer, 41–55. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Haskell, M.J. 2012. The challenge to reach nutritional adequacy for vitamin A: β-carotene bioavailability and conversion—evidence in humans. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 96: 1193S–1203S.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Holloway, L., and M. Kneafsey. 2004. Producing–consuming food: closeness, connectedness, and rurality. In Geographies of rural cultures and societies, ed. L. Holloway, and M. Kneafsey. London: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  47. IRRI. nd. Why is Golden Rice needed in the Philippines since vitamin A deficiency is already decreasing? IRRI website. Accessed 22 March 2016.
  48. IRRI. 1977. IR8 and beyond. Los Baños: International Rice Research Institute.Google Scholar
  49. IRRI. 2014a. What is the status of the Golden Rice project coordinated by IRRI? IRRI website. Accessed 22 March 2016.
  50. IRRI. 2014b. When will Golden Rice be available to farmers and consumers? IRRI website. Accessed 22 March 2016.
  51. IRRI. 2015. Heirloom rice: people place purpose (video). Accessed 22 March 2016.
  52. ISAAA. 2014. The global status of commercialized biotech/GM Crops: 2014 (Brief No. 49). Ithaca: The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.Google Scholar
  53. Kijima, Y., K. Otsuka, and D. Sserunkuuma. 2011. An inquiry into constraints on a Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa: The case of NERICA Rice in Uganda. World Development 39: 77–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Kloppenburg Jr, J.R. 1991. Social theory and the de/reconstruction of agricultural science: Local knowledge for an alternative agriculture. Rural Sociology 56: 519–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Krock, B. 2009. Researchers look to enriched crops to solve childhood malnutrition. In Researchers look to enriched crops to solve childhood malnutrition. Student Life (Washington University), 28 Sept.Google Scholar
  56. Kudlu, C., and G.D. Stone. 2013. The trials of genetically modified food: Bt eggplant and Ayurvedic Medicine in India. Food Culture and Society 16: 21–42.Google Scholar
  57. Laborte, A.G., K. de Bie, E.M. Smaling, P.F. Moya, A.A. Boling, and M.K. Van Ittersum. 2012. Rice yields and yield gaps in Southeast Asia: Past trends and future outlook. European Journal of Agronomy 36: 9–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Lambrecht, B. 2001. Dinner at the new gene cafe: how genetic engineering is changing what we eat, how we live, and the global politics of food. New York: St. Martins Press.Google Scholar
  59. Licnachan, E. 2015. Response from community stakeholders. Symposium on the Ifugao Rice Terraces. National Museum, Manila, Philippines, 18 June 2015.Google Scholar
  60. Lobell, D.B., K.G. Cassman, and C.B. Field. 2009. Crop yield gaps: Their importance, magnitudes, and causes. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 34: 179–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Long, S.P., A. Marshall-Colon, and X. Zhu. 2015. Meeting the global food demand of the future by engineering crop photosynthesis and yield potential. Cell 161: 56–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Lotus Foods. 2015. Products. Accessed 22 March 2016.
  63. Maat, H., and D. Glover. 2012. Alternative configurations of agricultural experimentation. In Contested agronomy: agricultural research in a changing world, ed. J. Sumberg, and J. Thompson, 131–145. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  64. Mann, C. 2012. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus created. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  65. McAfee, K. 2003. Neoliberalism on the molecular scale. Economic and genetic reductionism in biotechnology battles. Geoforum 34: 203–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Medina, J. 2013. FilAms urged to buy Philippine heirloom rice., 1 Oct. Accessed 22 March 2016.
  67. Montgomery, J.D. 1998. Toward a role-theoretic conception of embeddedness. Journal of Sociology 104: 92–125.Google Scholar
  68. Morris, C., and J. Kirwan. 2011. Ecological embeddedness: an interrogation and refinement of the concept within the context of alternative food networks in the UK. Journal of Rural Studies 27: 322–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Murdoch, J., T. Marsden, and J. Banks. 2000. Quality, nature, and embeddedness: Some theoretical considerations in the context of the food sector. Economic Geography 76: 107–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Nestle, M. 2001. Genetically engineered “Golden” Rice unlikely to overcome vitamin A deficiency. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 101: 289–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Niblio, S.R. 1995. War, diplomacy, and development: The United States and Mexico, 1938–1954. Wilmington: Scholarly Resources.Google Scholar
  72. Normile, D. 2006. Consortium aims to supercharge rice photosynthesis. Science 313: 423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Ohnuki-Tierney, E. 1993. Rice as self: Japanese identities through time. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  74. Otsuka, K., F. Gascon, and S. Asano. 1994. “Second-generation” MVs and the evolution of the Green Revolution: the case of Central Luzon, 1966–1990. Agricultural Economics 10: 283–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Peng, S., G.S. Khush, P. Virk, Q. Tang, and Y. Zou. 2008. Progress in ideotype breeding to increase rice yield potential. Field Crops Research 108: 32–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Pénicaud, C., N. Achir, C. Dhuique-Mayer, M. Dornier, and P. Bohuon. 2011. Degradation of β-carotene during fruit and vegetable processing or storage: Reaction mechanisms and kinetic aspects: A review. Fruits 66: 417–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Philippines Department of Health. nd. Micronutrient program. Accessed 22 March 2016.
  78. Polanyi, K., C. Arensberg, and H. Pearson. 1957. Trade and market in the early empires. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  79. Qaim, M., and D. Zilberman. 2003. Yield effects of genetically modified crops in developing countries. Science 299: 900–902.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. RAFI. 2000. Golden Rice and Trojan Trade Reps: A case study in the public sector’s mismanagement of intellectual property. RAFI Communique 66, Sept/Oct 2000. Accessed 22 March 2016.
  81. Retraction Watch. 2015. Golden rice paper pulled after judge rules for journal. 30 July 2015. Accessed 22 March 2016.
  82. Richards, P. 2004. Private versus public? Agenda-setting in international agro-technologies. In Agribusiness and society: Corporate responses to environmentalism, market opportunities and public regulation, ed. K. Jansen, and S. Vellema, 261–284. London: Zed.Google Scholar
  83. Richards, P. 1997. Toward an African Green Revolution? An anthropology of rice research in Sierra Leone. In The ecology of practice: studies of food crop production in sub-Saharan West Africa, ed. A.E. Nyerges, 201–252. Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach.Google Scholar
  84. Schurman, R., and W.A. Munro. 2010. Fighting for the future of food: Activists versus agribusiness in the struggle over biotechnology. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  85. Sekimoto, S., and L. Augustin-Jean. 2012. An export niche in the Philippines: The commodification of a speciality rice in Ifugao Province. In Geographical indications and international agricultural trade: The challenge for Asia, eds. L. Augustin-Jean, H. Ilbert, and N. Saavedra-Rivano, 181–203. Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  86. Shiva, V. 2000–1. World in a grain of rice. The Ecologist Dec–Jan. 30:9.Google Scholar
  87. Sievers-Glotzbach, S. 2014. Reconciling intragenerational and intergenerational environmental justice in Philippine agriculture: the MASIPAG farmer network. Ethics Policy and Environment 17: 52–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Soleri, D., D.A. Cleveland, G. Glasgow, S.H. Sweeney, F. Aragón Cuevas, M.R. Fuentes, and H. Ríos. 2008. Testing assumptions underlying economic research on transgenic food crops for Third World farmers: Evidence from Cuba, Guatemala, and Mexico. Ecological Economics 67: 667–682.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Stein, A.J., H.P.S. Sachdev, and M. Qaim. 2006. Potential impact and cost-effectiveness of Golden Rice. Nature Biotechnology 24: 1200–1201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Stone, G.D. 2002. Both sides now: Fallacies in the genetic-modification wars, implications for developing countries, and anthropological perspectives. Current Anthropology 43: 611–630.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Stone, G.D. 2011a. Field versus farm in warangal: Bt cotton, higher yields, and larger questions. World Development 39: 387–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Stone, G.D. 2011b. Golden Rice, soon. Or not. FieldQuestions blog. Accessed 22 March 2016.
  93. Stone, G.D. 2015. Biotechnology, schismogenesis, and the demise of uncertainty. Journal of Law and Policy 47: 29–49.Google Scholar
  94. Tang, G., Y. Hu, S. Yin, Y. Wang, G.E. Dallal, M.A. Grusak, and R.M. Russell. 2012. b-Carotene in Golden Rice is as good as b-carotene in oil at providing vitamin A to children. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 96:658–664 [Retracted, August 2015].Google Scholar
  95. Tripp, R. 1996. Biodiversity and modern crop varieties: sharpening the debate. Agriculture and Human Values 13: 48–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. von Caemmerer, S., W.P. Quick, and R.T. Furbank. 2012. The development of C4 rice: Current progress and future challenges. Science 336: 1671–1672.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Wesseler, J., S. Kaplan, and D. Zilberman. 2014. The cost of delaying approval of Golden Rice. Agricultural and Resource Economics Update 17(3): 1–3.Google Scholar
  98. Winter, M. 2003. Embeddedness, the new food economy, and defensive localism. Journal of Rural Studies 19: 23–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Witt, H., R. Patel, and M. Schnurr. 2006. Can the poor help GM Crops? Technology, representation, and cotton in the Makhathini Flats, South Africa. Review of African Political Economy 109: 497–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Woods, M. 2002–3. Food for thought: The biopiracy of Jasmine and Basmati rice. Albany Law Journal of Science and Technology 13:123–143.Google Scholar
  101. Wright, A. 1984. Innocents abroad: American agricultural research in Mexico. In Meeting expectations of the land, ed. W. Jackson, et al., 135–151. Berkeley: North Point Press.Google Scholar
  102. Ye, X., S. Al-Babili, A. Kloti, J. Zhang, P. Lucca, P. Beyer, and I. Potrykus. 2000. Engineering the provitamin A (beta-carotene) biosynthetic pathway into (carotenoid-free) rice E. Science 287: 303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Zimmermann, R., and M. Qaim. 2004. Potential health benefits of Golden Rice: A Philippine case study. Food Policy 29: 147–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyWashington UniversitySt. LouisUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Development StudiesUniversity of SussexBrightonUK

Personalised recommendations